LETTERS TO THE EDITORS
To the Editors:
Pat Shipman's timely piece "Being Stalked by Intelligent
Design" (Marginalia, November-December) confirms the impression
I have that the teaching of biology in the United States is in
crisis. It is high time the conflict was carried into the
opposition's camp. Since the purported Intelligent Designer is
clearly God (despite the disclaimers of the theory's advocates) we
are faced with the old God-of-the-Gaps argument: There is a supposed
lacuna in some theory or an absence of evidence of how things went
from A to B, therefore (a) it happened by divine agency, and
simultaneously (b) this "proves" God exists. This is
surely rotten theology, at least for the thinking believer. First,
as the gaps are filled by observation and experiment, God gets
squeezed out; second, if God exists there should be a cast-iron
proof of his existence quite independent of an alleged need to
postulate him to explain something.
Moreover, intelligent design (ID) theory is suspect for this reason:
It is not the case that an apparent gap in our knowledge must
require a supernatural explanation if a naturalistic one is not
immediately available. There is a third possibility: There is a
naturalistic explanation which is not yet available to us, and is
perhaps beyond our present level of understanding. The ID theorists
dishonestly choose to ignore this, by insisting that the gaps are
unbridgeable, while at the same time shouting that science doesn't
have all the answers—indeed it doesn't, which is what makes
science worth a lifetime's work.
Timothy J. R. Weakley
To the Editors:
I agree with Pat Shipman that we must face this assault on our
profession, but I wonder if we are missing a major point?
As a child of the 1940s, I grew up in a scientifically exciting era.
Our power over the material world was going to establish a peaceful
and prosperous Earth. Now, some 60 years later, it is clear that the
promises have not been kept. I don't mean to suggest that our
science has not given us anything. But these gifts are only
available to those who are healthy enough and educated enough to
take advantage of them. Too many of our citizens are frightened and
hurting, and the advances of science are irrelevant to them. It is
no wonder that they are looking elsewhere for a hopeful vision.
There is a vacuum of faith, and the supporters of intelligent design
are capitalizing on this to offer what looks like a warm spiritual
answer to what they portray as our current cold materialism. Theirs
is a seductive vision, indeed; it will take a long time for people
to realize that faith alone will not solve global warming.
I have no easy solutions to offer either, but perhaps we need to
focus attention on an issue science has traditionally not addressed:
What does a human being need to be healthy and fulfilled? In a world
where everything seems to be for sale, perhaps we need to humanize
our profession, express its ideals more clearly and extend its
mantra to include and respect those aspects of human life it is not
directly equipped to speak to. What could be more important?
Helen T. Ghiradella
State University of New York at Albany
To the Editors:
Inclusion of intelligent design in public school curricula need not
be detrimental to teaching science. The thesis asserted by Pat
Shipman is poignant, yet the proposed solution to show ID as
"religious prejudice masked as intellectual freedom"
exacerbates the controversy.
An alternative tactic is to show students in the classroom routinely
that the theory of evolution is supported by empirical data required
by the scientific method, yet faith-based ID is not, despite the
ploy, "argument by incredulity."
It is not necessary for a high school student to "decide"
between the hypothesis of ID or the theory of evolution. Rather than
taking a puritanical approach to science, pedagogically, let the
good judgment of the science teacher prevail in the classroom.
William F. Vitulli
University of South Alabama, Mobile
To the Editors:
I was amazed and appalled at the paranoia reflected by Pat Shipman.
What the author fails to recognize are the obvious philosophical and
theological assumptions that are expressed in her attack on
intelligent design. The article objected to the fact that "the
main premise of ID is that the living organisms on Earth are so
complex and intricately constructed that they cannot plausibly have
arisen through the unguided action of natural selection, so there
must be an 'intelligent designer.'" By extrapolation you can
say that her position is that all of the universe can be explained
by an unguided, random chance mechanism. This, of course, can never
be proven scientifically and so must be accepted by faith alone.
This is every bit as much a philosophical or religious position. In
teaching science to students, why should one religion or worldview
be sanctioned and the other excluded?
David H. Jones
Grove City College, PA
Dr. Shipman responds:
I thank the dozens of readers who sent thoughtful responses to my column.
Contrary to Dr. Jones's assessment, it is not paranoid to be alarmed
by a group whose openly avowed goal is to destroy the primacy of
science and the scientific method. American science has brought
benefits to millions.
I would applaud the inclusion of intelligent design in a comparative
religion class dealing with four or five major world religions. Such
a class would provide occasion for teachers and students to discuss
the emotional and spiritual needs of humans, a subject deserving
great attention, as Dr. Ghiradella points out.
Intelligent Design should not be taught in science classes because
it is not a testable hypothesis. The essence of science is expressed
in two questions: How would you know? And what evidence would prove
this idea wrong? An idea unsupported by evidence, that is incapable
of being proven wrong by evidence, is not science.
In contrast, thousands of predictions made on the basis of
evolutionary theory are tested daily by the fossil record, by
genetic experiments and by myriad observations of events such as the
mutation of avian flu into a disease that infects humans. Evolution
is repeatedly revealed to be a major mechanism of change in living organisms.
Was the mechanism of natural selection initiated by a supreme
being? How would we know?